First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Limited, and LE. Click image to enlarge

First published December 24, 2013

Review and photos by Jacob Black

In 2013 the Toyota’s RAV4 was no longer available with a V6 engine and many people wondered why. For 2014 Toyota’s Highlander will be bigger. Wider, longer and available with only a V6 – the four-cylinder has been dropped.

It’s all part of Toyota’s plan to better occupy the emerging SUV niches. RAV4, Venza and Highlander are the Japanese marque’s answer to the unibody (car-based) SUV market – a market that grew by 40 percent last year.

It’s a clever strategy, especially when one considers the amount of clutter and overlap already found in the segment. Interestingly, the body-on-frame market fell just three percent, so many of those entering this segment for the first time are stepping up from traditional cars – all the more reason to consolidate a tiered product line in this class.

And so, bye-bye four-cylinder Highlander. The hybrid remains, of course.

The Highlander is a three-row, eight-passenger SUV, just about the only way to get more cabin room is to buy a Sienna.

Toyota have also applied their new “more emotional” design philosophy to the Highlander, with more sculpted flanks, a handful of funky and functional aerodynamic advices and a larger trapezoidal grill. The effect is… well, there is an effect. Toyota calls it “strong and sleek” – I can see that.

Toyota is offering four different wheels to demarcate the LE, LE + convenience pack, XLE and Limited trims. The top two receive 19-inch wheels but I prefer the look of the 18-inch five-spoke 3D design offered on the LE + convenience trim; they’re extremely attractive wheels.

There is no change to the wheelbase, but the Highlander is 75 mm longer and 15 mm wider. It is also 30 mm lower thanks to a drop in ride height. Those body changes, plus a revised, double-wishbone rear suspension that eliminates the rear strut towers result in a 34 percent increase in cargo volume beyond the third row. There is now 390 L there.

The tailgate is available with a power-lift, and there is also a lift-up window hatch for quick and easy cargo loading – because the less time spent holding your son’s hockey bag the better.

Toyota says its “Drive Curious” strategy is behind the interior design of this car, and there are some very, very clever tricks inside. My favourite is the electronics shelf which is perfectly shaped for phones, mini-tablets, sunglasses and wallets, but also comes with a slot for cables to run down to the USB plug and power supply. It is one of those “why is this not on every car?!”  features.

The centre console is designed to hold a tote bag or lap top bag and has two roller doors which open to reveal a gaping maw. Because of the roller-door setup the console still operates as an arm rest when it is open. Women with large handbags will love this feature, as will businessmen with laptop cases, and doctors doing house calls. I kid, I kid. Doctors don’t do house calls anymore.

First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives First Drive: 2014 Toyota Highlander toyota hybrids first drives
2014 Toyota Highlander. Click image to enlarge

The other neat trick is Driver Easy Speak. Have you ever wanted to speak with your kids but found they were too far back to hear you properly? No problem, press the Easy Speak button and tell little Jimmy to stop hitting his sister – the microphone in the car picks up the driver’s voice and plays it through the speakers. But wait – what if you’re talking to the wife about their Christmas presents and don’t want them to hear? Luckily Easy Speak can be turned off. It is one-way though, so you might not be able to hear them speak back to you – handy that.

There is a 6.1-inch touchscreen on the base model LE and LE + convenience package. With all other models getting an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation plus a 4.2-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster. The screens are flanked by large pseudo-buttons which respond as slowly as most digital buttons, but look fantastic.

The XLE and Limited trims have both been bolstered with the addition of standard features. XLE now gets AVN Premium navigation system with the larger screen, rear door sunshades and Toyota Smart Key System with Push Button Start.

Limited now gets a heated steering wheel, heated second row captain’s chairs, a panoramic moon roof, interior LED ambient lighting, 19-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, and a clearance sonar system with Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

All models now get a back-up camera standard while automatic climate control is available on the XLE trim and up. The removable middle seat is gone from this model, with Toyota citing a lack of interest in the feature as the reason.

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